A Great Freeze in the Great Lakes

Just how cold has it been in the Great Lakes this winter?

Cold enough that I'm actually blogging about ice instead of telling sailing stories.

And cold enough to produce more ice coverage over the inland seas than has been seen in the last 20 years. Believe it or not, that's good news for Great Lakes sailors who were ailing during last summer's historic low water levels. As of the beginning of 2014, Great Lakes water levels were still about one foot below average despite the above average rainfall last summer. The above average ice on the Great Lakes this winter should translate to reduced water loss from evaporation and allow water levels to continue recovering.

Great Lakes ice cover for February 12, 2014
(White is actually open water, while grays/blacks are ice)

The all-time record for total ice coverage on the Great Lakes was set in 1979 when 94.7% of the lakes were covered. The record low ice year was 2002 when just 9.5% of the Great Lakes surface was frozen. Currently (February 12, 2014) total ice area for all of the 5 Great Lakes combined is over 87%. Lake Superior, Lake Huron and Lake Erie each have at least 94% coverage. Lake Michigan's north-south orientation and depth are keeping my personal favorite Great Lake at about 87%, while Lake Ontario's constant currents and mixing (predominantly upwelling) are keeping it only 29% covered.

Satellite image of Lake Michigan's ice from 2/10/2014
(Image by NOAA)

The last vessels on the Great Lakes called it quits in mid-January of this year when the Great Lakes commercial shipping season officially ended. The massive amounts of ice kept the U.S. Coast Guard's ice breaker (USCGC Mackinaw) busy maintaining open water for at least 57 U.S. flagged commercial vessels. I assume all of the early season ice probably had an impact on the shippers who use the Great Lakes to transport raw materials.

Spring may be in sight on the calendar, but it's going to take some serious thawing before we have open water for sailing and the only ice mentioned in my blog posts are the cubes that chill my Dark 'n Stormy during the first sail of the year.

Here's what this year's Great Lakes ice looks like through my camera lens...

Light station off of Chicago Harbor (by K. Walters)

Icy mosaic near Chicago's DuSable Harbor (by K. Walters)

Hannah taking it in (by K. Walters)

Izzy in awe (by K. Walters)


  1. great post! let's get this winter over with...!

  2. Great Post! Can't wait to get this Winter over with!


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